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September 26th 2011

Recalibrations: Marketization and the Social Relevance of Art in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan

Co-sponsored by Columbia University's Harriman Institute and Department of Anthropology - Scholarship on artistic production has connected discourses of creative autonomy to market forces. In Kazakhstan, however, the postsocialist liberalization of artistic production from the support and oversight provided by the Soviet state has produced the opposite: a discourse of the social relevance of art. During ethnographic field research in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I observed that many artists continued to emphasize the social significance of their work as documenting and transforming contemporary life, as well as representing Kazakhstan abroad. This emphasis on artists’ service to society evoked the Soviet-era discourse on art that vehemently criticized artists preoccupied with their creative autonomy. In this presentation, I suggest that this seeming vestige of the Soviet past demonstrates a recalibration of Soviet-era prestige for the purpose of generating private sponsorship. What emerges is a particular aesthetic, ethical, and economic regime where capitalist and socialist values intersect in complex and unexpected ways.

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Location: Columbia University Room 963 Schermerhorn Extension